Jason Branch, a doctoral student in the counselor education program in the College of Education at Auburn University, said that the biggest reward he has received throughout his ten years in counseling has been “seeing change within other people.”
However, the $20,000 fellowship he was recently awarded by the National Board for Certified Counselors isn't bad either.
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Branch was selected out of a highly competitive group of scholars for the National Board for Certified Counselors Minority Fellowship Program. The fellowship will both support Branch in his education and also help to facilitate his service to minority populations.
It is an honor that Branch does not take lightly, and one that he said he attributes to his passion for helping people.
“I wasn’t always a stellar student,” Branch said. “But I feel like I found my niche and used passion and my faith to get to this place.”
One thing Branch hopes to accomplish with opportunities from his fellowship is the reestablishment of his Brothers Outreach to Underprivileged and Needy Children Everywhere mentoring program, which he was forced to stop in 2015 when he decided to move from Birmingham to Auburn in order to further his education.
The mentor program focused on teaching life skills to young minority men who may not have otherwise learned them because of a lack of a male role model.
Since transitioning from counseling to becoming a full time student again in Auburn's education program, Branch has expanded his scholarship efforts and gained the respect of many, including assistant professor in Auburn University’s counselor education program, Melanie Iarussi.
Iarussi has been working with Branch since he began his studies at Auburn in August 2015.
“He is finding his ground for exercising his voice relating to [his] passion," Iarussi said. "It has been very rewarding for me to watch him through that process."
Although he has come a long way through his studies, Branch also feels that the counseling profession has a long way to go as well. Moving forward, he wants to use his fellowship to continue to advance the profession and decrease the stigma surrounding mental health.
“There is still a lot of stigma about counseling about mental health, especially among African American men,” Branch said. “If I could find a way to increase participation or just start the process of educating, then hopefully I could make a difference in getting more people involved in counseling.”
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